Ffoton have teamed up with the very fine online Printing company MIXAM to outline everything you need to know about Digital photography zine printing. From choosing the right paper and binding, to adding bleed to your print file and much more.

The following guide, written for Ffoton by Mixam’s Adam Smith, provides a great overview of things you should consider and a ton of useful information to give your photography the best chance of looking just right on the printed page.

 
mixam logo.png
mixam logo.png
 

ZINE PRINTING

Creating a printed compilation of your photos is part-technical challenge and part-artistic expression.  So we’re going to cover the basics, very clearly, succinctly and with diagrams to help you digest all of the technical information very quickly. Then we’ll show you 3 examples to help you make the artistic choices to enhance the reading experience of your photo zine. But if in doubt, stick with our recommended default options to get a great result.


It also helps to understand that whether you want to print a zine, magazine, book, that they are all booklets. And a booklet is simply sheets of paper bound together. What product name you then decide to give your booklet often depends on your content and your audience.


Papers

Papers come in 4 types; silk, gloss, uncoated and recycled. Each has their own look and feel, which changes how your photographs will look when printed.

  • Silk – The recommended default paper choice with a smooth finish

  • Gloss – A popular choice for photo albums, because it’s shiny and increases colour saturation

  • Uncoated – Gives a slightly rough look and feel and dulls colours a little

  • Recycled – A very rough feeling textured paper that dulls colours considerably

Silk paper is the safest paper for accurate photo reproduction, while gloss makes everything more saturated and shiny. Although uncoated paper has become very popular for photozines, because it gives a vintage look and feel. We wouldn’t recommend recycled paper for photos, because of the heavy texture and brown tint which dramatically dulls colors.

Paper thickness is measured in gsm (Grams per square metre). 130gsm is the recommended standard thickness. The thicker the paper, the more rigid the pages and the more ink it can hold. So if you’re printing night-time photos with lots of black, you’ll need to make sure your paper isn’t too thin because it has to hold all that dark ink. But if you have a collection of lighter, day time photos you could try thinner paper if you like.


Covers

If you’re printing a booklet, like a zine, we highly recommend giving it a proper cover with a laminated finish for both presentation and protection. A cover consists of 4 sides/pages of thicker paper at the front and back of your zine. Cover papers are available in silk, gloss, uncoated and recycled papers and use the same gsm measurement, but are considerably thicker than your inner pages - ranging from 170gsm to 300gsm.

Some people prefer not to add a cover, using the first and last of their inner pages instead. However, because these papers will not be laminated, the edges will scuff over time and the print may become marked or rub off. However, this can sometimes suit the popular vintage aesthetic of many modern zines.

And of course, you can mix different paper types for your inner pages and cover pages. It’s not uncommon for photographers to create zines with uncoated interior pages and a silk cover that’s matt laminated.


Finishes

We always recommend that you laminate the cover of your zine, because it looks more professional and provides protection from wear and tear, as well as sweaty fingers, which can make the ink rub off over time.

Whilst there are many finishing options available, you only need to be concerned with the main two below:

Matt lamination – A smooth protective coating with a matt finish

Gloss lamination – A smooth protective coating with a glossy shine

Generally, people apply a matt lamination to a silk paper cover or a gloss lamination to a gloss paper cover because they enhance the aesthetics of these paper types.

A silk paper cover with a matt lamination is the recommended safe ‘default’ option to achieve the best reproduction. Meanwhile, applying a gloss lamination to a gloss paper will make your cover super shiny and increase the colour saturation.

Uncoated and recycled papers should not be laminated, as it defeats the aesthetic and feel of this paper type. Also, because the finish won’t adhere to the paper very well.


Bindings

There are two types of binding typically used for zines. Most are staple bound because it’s cheap and effective. More professional photo zines, photo books or portfolios will be perfect bound to create a more premium looking product.

Staple bound – two staples hold all the pages together. Also known as saddle stitched binding.

Perfect bound – Pages are glued against a square spine, making a softback book.

A 20-page zine will usually be staple bound. It’s not always possible for a zine with a low page count to be perfect bound because there is a minimum total paper thickness required for the square spine to be created.

The recommended default paper thickness is 130gsm. So you would need at least 36 sides to achieve the minimum thickness for your booklet to be perfect bound.

Your chosen binding will also have an impact on the way you design your pages. So this is something to consider when creating your print file, as additional bleed and quiet areas may be needed.

Ffoton’s #portraitcymru zine used simple staple binding.

Ffoton’s #portraitcymru zine used simple staple binding.


Print File Setup

Also known as your artwork file. This is a multi-page PDF file containing all of your final page designs, in running order.

The total number of pages (or sides) in your zine must be a multiple of 4 - as each sheet of paper printed will produce two pages on each side of each paper sheet (a single image printed as a spread still counts as two pages).

For example, the lowest page count on a A5 zine would be four pages - with a single A4 sheet printed on both sides and folded once to create four printed pages. In contrast, nine sheets of A4 paper printed on both sides and folded in the same way would result in a 36-page zine: 9 sheets x 4 pages per sheet = 36 pages.

Although printing machines can process JPEGs, Word documents and other low res files, we strongly recommend uploading PDF files exported using the ‘high quality print’ setting from your chosen Adobe or publishing Application. Images should be at least 300dpi (dots-per-inch or pixels per inch) as anything lower will look grainy with a low resolution when printed.

But first, you need to decide what size you want your zine to be and how it will be bound. Then you will be able to set up your bleed and quiet areas to make your file ‘print ready’.


Sizes

In the UK, the most popular dimensions for zines are A4 and A5.
Your chosen size and portrait or landscape orientation of your pages will determine the area available for your design.


Trim Lines

This is the line on which you expect your materials to be cut as the printing machine trims the edges of your paper to the desired size. So if you upload an A4 size design, the trim line will be the edge of the A4 paper. However, there will always be slight manufacturing variances when your paper is trimmed, which is why you need to add bleed to your print files.


Bleed

Click image to enlarge

Irrespective of opting for an A4 or A5 size zine, you should always add a 3mm bleed area outside your trim lines on every side of the document.

Your design also needs to completely fill this bleed area. This is because the trimming blade can fall slightly outside of the trim line, trimming your paper within the bleed area.

Imagine that your page design has a blue background which ends at the trim line. We print on white paper. So if the trimming blade falls outside of the trim line, into the bleed area, which is empty, you will end up with a white line along the edge of your blue page.

Preparing your print file means building in a margin of error into your design. While modern printing machines are incredibly accurate, preparing for slight discrepancies will ensure that there are no unpleasant surprises.


Quiet Areas

Regardless of the paper size you have chosen, we recommend creating a quiet area 5mm inside your trim line. Keep all important design elements and text outside of this quiet area.

Aesthetically, having design elements too close to the edge of your page can look messy and unprofessional. It’s also possible for the trimming blade to fall inside of the trim line (into the quiet area) as it is to fall outside of the trim line (into the bleed area) chopping off part of your design.

If your photo zine is going to be perfect bound you should increase your quiet area to a total of 10mm away from the binding edge. All other edges will have a quiet area of 5mm. This is to accommodate the square spine and prevent important details from being lost in the spine gutter. This applies to your cover design too.

Staple bound zines on the other hand, don’t require an additional quiet area on the binding edge, as the staples don’t take up as much room and therefore the standard 5mm quiet area on all edges is quite sufficient.


RGB vs CMYK

Getting your colours just right is important in colour photo printing, so you need to know about converting RGB to CMYK.
The key thing to remember is your computer screen creates RGB colours using light, while professional printing machines (Digital and Offset-Litho) create CMYK colours using ink - just like mixing paint.

Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop (and alternative photo imaging applications) allow you to switch RGB colours to CMYK colours. Use the CMYK Profile: Coated GRACoL 2006 (ISO 12647-2:2004) for best results when printing with Mixam.

Be aware there will be some inconsistency because RGB and CMYK are very different colour profiles, so we recommend manually fine tuning your CMYK values until you’re happy with them. You would typically request a printed proof of your zine before committing to your final print run. If printing through Mixam, you can take advantage of the free test prints service which allows up to twelve pages to be printed at your desired size.


Zine Examples

We appreciate that’s a lot of information to take in, so here are three examples of common photo zine configurations. And don’t forget that the total number of sides must always be divisible by 4.

1. Standard Zine

  • A5

  • 32 sides

  • Staple bound

  • Silk paper 130gsm

  • Silk cover paper 170gsm

  • Matt lamination

  • 3mm bleed area on all sides

  • 5mm quiet area on all sides


If you’re looking for something ‘safe’ for your first zine, we recommend choosing silk paper with a matt laminated cover to create a good quality booklet.

2. Premium Zine

  • A4

  • 60 sides

  • Perfect bound

  • Silk paper 130gsm

  • Gloss cover paper 170gsm

  • Gloss lamination

  • 3mm bleed area on all sides

  • 5mm quiet area on all sides

  • Additional quiet area totalling 10mm on the spine side of each page including cover


Perfect binding usually goes hand in hand with a gloss cover paper and a gloss laminate with silk text paper inside for a high-end finished product which looks and feels luxurious.

3. Uncoated Zine

  • A4

  • 40 sides

  • Staple bound

  • Uncoated paper 170gsm

  • No cover paper

  • No lamination

  • 3mm bleed area on all sides

  • 5mm quiet area on all sides


Conclusion

These are all the essentials you need to know for printing your zine. We’ve covered paper types, laminations, bindings, bleed and CMYK colour and given three good examples.

The key things to remember are:

  1. Convert your colours to CMYK

  2. Include 3mm bleed and 5mm quiet area on all pages

  3. If in doubt, choose silk paper and a matt laminated cover


Congratulations! You are now empowered to take full control when it comes to printing your photo zine. No longer must you rely on physical trips to your local printer. Now you can compare printing prices online and make your budget go further.

But if in doubt, there’s no harm in asking other photographers which specifications they chose for their zines. We’re all here to help one another.

‘Y Carnifal’ printed by Mixam

‘Y Carnifal’ printed by Mixam

‘Y Carnifal’ printed by Mixam


Adam Smith is the Marketing Manager at Mixam, a print company that’s disrupting their industry through innovation with their Instant Price Calculator and online features to make print easy and accessible to everyone. For more printing knowledge, visit their very detailed support section.